The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) couldn’t shut down the Foster Farms chicken plant in Livingston, California, or demand a recall when it was linked to a salmonella outbreak last year, because the bacterium, unlike E.coli, is considered a naturally-occurring adulteration.
Cockroaches are another matter.
The department ordered (pdf) that operations be suspended Wednesday at the plant near Modesto after multiple inspections found “egregious insanitary conditions” caused by an infestation of roaches. The inspectors said the roaches prove that the company “failed to maintain an effective pest control program and other sanitary controls.”
Inspectors found live roaches near the “liver tumbler/belt,” next to a faucet, in a tub “that is a direct product contact surface” and next to a sanitary dispenser box beside the ice machine. The inspections dated back to September.
Cockroaches can carry viruses and bacteria, including salmonella. Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 1 million people a year become ill nationally from salmonella and it is the Number 1 pathogen leading to hospitalization, the bacteria is legally regarded as a common contaminant that can be controlled by proper cooking.
The Livingston plant was one of three Foster Farm facilities blamed for outbreaks of salmonella in 2012 and 2013 that put more than 100 people in the hospital. Although more than 340 people were sickened in at least 20 states, federal law did not require a chicken recall.
The U.S. cracked down on E.coli in the 1990s when ground meat from Jack in the Box sickened more than 700 people. Most of the victims were children, and four of them died. Nearly 200 people suffered permanent debilitating illnesses, including kidney and brain damage.
Dead kids got the public’s attention and the USDA pronounced the strain of E.coli in the outbreak a dangerous adulterant that must be eliminated from meat. The industry fought back but lost and other strains of E.coli have since been included in required testing programs.
However, folks at home and in restaurants are supposed to know that there is a great likelihood that raw chicken has salmonella and must be cooked to be safe. Contaminated food makes one out of every six Americans ill each year. More than 100,000 end up in a hospital and 3,000 die. Most just feel ill and wonder if they caught the flu, drank some tainted water or inhaled some noxious pollutants.
It’s tough to know in a dangerous world overrun by cockroaches.